Address at Humbert Summer School 2004

Decentralisation and all that…

By Terry Reilly (c)

Lining up for the cameraman just a few minutes ago reminds me of a story I heard the other day….

The school children had all been photographed, and the teacher was trying to persuade them each to buy a copy of the group picture. “Just think how nice it will be to look at it when you are all grown up and say, ‘There’s Jennifer, she’s a lawyer,’ or ‘That’s Michael, He’s a doctor.’ A small voice at the back of the room rang out, “And there’s the teacher, She’s dead.” A few years ago at this School I shared a platform with Minister Frank Fahey of Galway who entreated the lunchtime gathering not to vote for Sinn Fein, or Independents in the upcoming General election…. because, he warned, they could achieve nothing…

In the General Election that followed in this neck of the woods the electorate chose to ignore him and duly elected not one but two Independents, Marian Harkin and Dr Jerry Cowley. Prior to that they had elected Dana to Europe, and since then one Independent Marian Harkin has replaced another Dana, in Europe.

Why did the electorate ignore the Minister’s advice in electing Marian Harkin and Dr Cowley?

Surely the answer was simple: The electorate elected two Independent TDs in this region because it was fed up of decades of lip service. Promises had accumulated into abject deceit: schools, banks, post offices, garda stations and medical services had been run down. Infrastructure was coming via the snail mail route. Communities had been driven up against a wall, and there was no way out other than to hit back.

After years of neglect something had to give, and, out of sheer frustration, the electorate switched allegiance and provided two local independents Dail seats. And they are unlikely to take them back too quickly. Not while roads in the region remain long-fingered, or while hospital units remain unmanned, or while cancer patients have to trek to Dublin for radiotherapy treatment — often to discover that they have to return home again untreated because machines have broken down.

To be fair to the Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy, he is on the right track when it comes to decentralisation. Maybe that is why they weant to shove him off to Europe? Anyway, the Minister for Finance,wants to move over 10,000 civil servants out of Dublin. Why? Because it is good for the country, and good for Dublin. But some within the Cabinet, and other politicians, amongst them Mayo man and Labour leader Pat Rabbitt, and former Fine Gael Leader John Bruton are adamantly opposed to such a sensible and overdue move to bring some balance to a lopsided centralisation which has bred the Dublin mindset.

And lest I forget it, John Bruton was not slow in coming forward with decentralisation plans for Meath when he was in a position to deliver to his own constituency..

Some civil servants are also opposed to the idea, and some no doubt have valid concerns. But go to Dublin and talk to civil servants or people who hailed originally from the provinces and you will hear of all the downsides of living in Dublin: crime, drugs, lack of schooling, lack of a sense of community, overcrowded hospitals, and having to leave home for work at 7 am or before and not get home before 7 or 8 in the evening.

But those civil servants who oppose moving to, and I quote, “those God-awful places down the country where all one has is a choice of dingy pubs.” Unquote . They decry a lack of third level education facilities and yet see nothing wrong in opposing government policy that could lead to an evening out of development-educational, social, infrastructural.

Of course, decentralisation is not a one-way street. We in the West know that better than most. We have seen decentralisation stride Eastwards for years and years. Migration, emigration, railway tracks have all gone in that direction. And now we about to lose our health boards which are being packed up and sent back to Dublin in yet another grand experiment to fix a poorly run system…at our expense! Will this grand new experiment work? Or was there a better way? People will say it is too early to judge, but those who say that are not speaking from a western perspective: we have seen devolution before in all its guises, and we have counted and borne the cost.

We are about to see it again when natural gas from North Mayo goes to fire up huge areas of the country. Regrettably, it will not be made available to the people of North Mayo. Why? Because vision and leadership has again been sarcrificied on the altar of expediency. More than five years ago, I raised this issue as Editor of the WP, and called upon the Government to at least develop centres of enterprise which could be fuelled by natural gas in an imaginative and overdue concession to the region. Not unexpecteldly, it fell on deaf ears…but imagine the hullabaloo there would have been if the gas had been found off Dublin and Dublin was told “HANDS OFF ,” the West is getting the most of the find.”

So, to return to my ‘thesis’ : Are not the people of the country, who are electing Independent TDs, Independent Euro MEPs and Sinn Fein councillors, really looking for that great old virtue called LEADERSHIP which is even handed, transparent, honest, has a vision and desires to serve all of the people of the land equally.

We have had the false promises. The hype. The spin. The nod and wink of duplicity. It would be nice to get back to calling a spade for what it is. But will we? I am inclined to say “don’t hold your breath.” But we must continue to fight tooth and main.

Decentralisation will be the next big battle. But watch this space on that issue if Charlie McCreevy is packed off to Europe in a haze of spin and hype, smoke and mirrors and the heat goes out of his decentralisation agenda. We need to keep our eyes open in rural Ireland and make sure the Government delivers on this one.

And speaking of a vigilant eye…………. The children were lined up in a school cafetaria for lunch. At the head of the table was a large pile of apples. The nun made a note, and posted it on the apple tray: It read… “Take only ONE. God is watching.” Moving further along the lunch line, at the other end of the table was a large pile of chocolate chip cookies. A child had written a note, “Take all you want. God is watching the apples”.

To which I might add, in the best tradition of the Skibbereen Eagle, we are watching the Government!

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